Fashion, or someone’s attitude toward it, says a lot about their personality. We make assumptions about someone who wears the latest and edgiest trends versus someone who looks like they just rolled out of bed. It’s an advertisement about how we feel about ourselves, our society, and our values. Does a person wear fur? How much cleavage? How high are her heels? Does he have a tie? We categorize our romance heroes based on whether they’re wearing a uniform, black leather, a poet’s shirt, or Armani.
Marketing departments know this, and use these signals as a kind of shorthand. My Dark Forgotten books hover somewhere between paranormal romance and urban fantasy. Only the cover of the third novel (UNCHAINED) shows a woman clothed the way the character actually appears in the book, but for all three the cover artist uses our expectations about scantily clad chicks with knives to convey the tone of the stories.
For an author, this is pretty interesting stuff. A goodly portion of the editorial comments I receive from the publisher are about what the characters are wearing or eating. I can only conclude that (a) the contents of my closet would amuse them no end and (b) readers are alert to this information.
With this in mind, it’s possible to get a lot of mileage in terms of characterization-by-wardrobe. My hero from RAVENOUS, Alessandro Caravelli, is very much the archetypal leather-wearing, long-haired rocker type. He’s a predator, he’s a musician, and he belongs to a culture with an inherent degree of violence. Reynard, the hero of UNCHAINED, begins the book still wearing the captain’s uniform he had before he was trapped in the Castle. To him, it’s a symbol of discipline, honour, and his best self. When he finally sheds it, he’s on the verge of starting a new life with a new self-identity.
The heroines are just as diverse: Holly in RAVENOUS is a student, always in jeans and sweaters. Constance from SCORCHED is an eighteenth century vampire who’s just discovered Audrey Hepburn’s fashion sense. Ashe from UNCHAINED is a vampire slayer and a mom—dry-clean-only isn’t in her world view. Their clothes are as distinct as they are.
Characterization is everything to a good romance. Without it, we can’t fall in love with the protagonists, root for them, and cheer when they finally reach their happily ever after. I’ll use whatever tools are at my disposal to help the reader understand and connect with the people at the heart of my stories. If that means flipping through magazines to find just the right look, why not?
What is the one piece of clothing you own that defines you?
Leave a comment and I’ll send you a copy of UNCHAINED!
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